25th Anniversary of Burn's Night Storm

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  • Synoptic chart for 12:00 UTC on 25th January 1990, showing the Burns' Day storm sweeping the UK. The tight isobars demonstrate the severe gale or storm force winds across England and Wales. Source: NCEP/NCAR, www.wetterzentrale.de

  • 25th Anniversary of Burn's Night Storm
    23.01.2015 16:19

    The 25th January this year marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most widespread, deadly and destructive wind storms to impact Wales and the southern half of England in many decades. It is remembered as the ‘Burns’ Day Storm’ of 1990, due to it sweeping across the UK during the daytime preceding Burns’ Night– the annual celebratory tribute to the life and works of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns. Despite the centre of storm tracking across southern Scotland (and South Ayrshire, the county where Robert Burns was born), the strongest winds were located to the south of the depression’s track, over England and Wales. 

    In the few days preceding the storm’s arrival across our shores, there were a few episodes of wet and windy weather, but nothing unusual for mid-winter. The storm developed as small and fast moving centre of low pressure close to the eastern seaboard of the USA on 22nd January. As it moved across the central north Atlantic during 24th January, it encountered a strengthening jet stream, with much colder air streaming south-eastwards from Newfoundland and Greenland. These conditions encouraged an incredibly rapid period of intensification, as the storm tracked eastwards towards Ireland on the evening of 24th and then east-northeast across southern Scotland during the 25th. The central pressure of the storm plunged from 995 millibars at midday on 24th to 950 millibars at midday on 25th, a fall of 45 millibars in 24 hours!

    Severe gale to storm force westerly winds battered a large area. Wales, southern England, the Midlands, East Anglia, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire were worst affected. Gusts in excess of 80mph were recorded at a number of inland locations during the day. Plymouth recorded a 96mph gust, while the exposed coastal location of Aberporth in west Wales notched up 108mph. Many areas endured these severe wind speeds for 6 to 8 hours, which caused many trees to be felled and some buildings to be damaged. 47 people are reported to have been killed as a result of the storm’s impacts.

    A much wider area of the country was affected than during the infamous storm of October 1987, which focussed its damage mainly on the far south and south-east of England. In 1990, this previous tempest was still fresh in people’s memory, so when winds of equal severity arrived just two winters later, then there was a question of rapid climate change and a concern that winter windstorms like these may become commonplace across southern England and Wales. With the high density of population, housing and infrastructure over this part of the UK, then such an eventuality would have large financial implications. 

    Fortunately, the frequency of severe wind storms across southern England and Wales does not seem to have increased over the last 25 years. We have seen several more powerful storms since then, including widespread severe gales over inland parts of southern England on 18th January 2007, but also plenty of calmer winters too.

    By: Matthew Dobson